Thursday, September 6, 2012

Curtain Closes on 2012 at Canterbury with Bright Future Ahead

A year removed from a season that was marred by a 3-week government shutdown and ended with trepidation for the future of Minnesota racing, Canterbury Park recently concluded a record breaking year and will approach the 2013 season with renewed optimism and hope for the future.

Under the provisions of an agreement between the track and the casino-owning Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Community will provide $81 million over the next 10 years with 90% of the payment going to fund purses.  The remaining 10% will be set aside for marketing initiatives designed to increase attendance and handle at Canterbury.  In return, Canterbury Park has agreed to drop the pursuit of a racino and will be working with the Nation’s two casinos, Mystic Lake and Little Six, on joint marketing initiatives.

For the fourth consecutive year the track set a record for average annual attendance at 6,595, up 7.3% over last year’s season.  Additionally, the average daily on-track handle of $189,973 was also a 7.3% increase year over year while the average daily all source handle on Canterbury races of $452,405 was up 12.9% over 2011.  Total all source handle for the meet was up 25% to $28,049,108 with six additional racing days in 2012.  These are nothing to sneeze at.  Even with the 6 less racing days of 2011 the comparison is impressive. 
I found it interesting that the increase in on track attandance and handle moved in synch - that folks just continue to bet the same amount per capita no matter how many we pull in, but track President and CEO Randy Sampson pointed out, "We've had increased attendance each of the alst few years and handle has been flat.  This is definitely a good sign"

The claiming box was more active this season as well.  In both 2010 and 2011, 27 horses were claimed at each meet.  For the 2012 season that number doubled to 54 horses as trainers looked for better quality stock to compete for the increased purse money. A quick look at the claims report shows that while there are many familiar names on the list, there are quite a few who are not.  It may be a bit premature to think that we’re suddenly attracting new owners into the game, it does show a renewed level of interest. 

When the agreement was first inked, purses were increased 35% retroactive from the start of the meet.  For the 2013 season the purses will increase approximately another 25%. This should lead to more stall applications for the track resulting in fuller fields and increased wagering opportunities for the bettor.  The track has already begun work on recruiting not only owners and trainers for next season, but increasing the availability of the Canterbury signal to draw more wagering interest from across the country.  More wagering will result in increased revenue and will help to grow racing in the state.  The Festival Day crowd of over 17,000 shows that Minnesotans will come to the races FOR the races; there were no gimmicks on Festival Day, just gorgeous day featuring great racing – and the people came.  I don’t think the track can expect that kind of crowd every weekend, but it’s good to know that a good product brings in the people.

The optimism even permeated the annual Minnesota Thoroughbred Association’s annual yearling sale.  With the same number of horses sold as the 2011 sale, 31, the average selling price increased 61% to $10,332 and the median increased 45% to $5,500.  Even the sale topper was up 86% with a colt by Holy Bull out of Run With Joy selling for $56,000 to Barry & Joni Butzow, part owners of Graded Stakes winner Hamazing Destiny.

“The momentum really built through the season and really culminated yesterday with the record Festival Day crowd,” said Sampson.  “You can tell that we’re on the verge of things going up considerably as the agreement gets fully implemented over the next few years.”


The 2012 Divisional Champions were announced by Canterbury Park on Sunday.  Horse of the Year was also the three year old champion and champion sprinter, the undefeated Heliskier.  Heleiskier was 4-4 on the season taking an allowance followed by three stakes, the Victor S Myers, the MTA Stallion Laddie and the Minnesota Derby, by a combined total of 33 ¾ lengths.  Heliskier earned $103,056 on the season. As you know, I have a great love for this three year old gelding and I’m very excited to see him run for years to come.

Other divisional winners include: Older and Grass Horse – Tubby Time; Older Filly or Mare – Ruthville; 3-year old filly – Keewatin Ice; 2-year old – Badge of Glory; and claimer of the meet – Patriate.

Mac Robertson was the leading trainer for the 8th consecutive year with 53 wins and newcomer to Canterbury Tanner Riggs dethroned defending champion jockey Dean Butler with 74 victories to Butler’s 65.  The jockey race was a lot of fun this year with some newcomers entering the fray and I hope that an influx of new trainers can bring in some fresh faces in the jockey colony as well.  It’s always fun to see new talent and Canterbury has the potential to once again be a breeding ground for young jockey talent before they shift tack to California or New York (anyone remember Mike Smith at Canterbury?).


The bow is on the 2012 season but, as I mentioned, work is already underway to capitalize on the momentum Randy mentioned.  I’ve said before that the agreement is only the beginning and that there is still heavy lifting to do: feelers to trainers and owners need to translate into commitments and stall space; we need to have Canterbury broadcast from coast-to-coast to generate a following amongst the lifeblood of racing – the gamblers; it’d be great to be able to see Canterbury on TVG – handle does improve on nights that we’re broadcast; getting some simulcast centers out in some of the more distant Tribal locations would be great – broadcast centers in Bemidji and Duluth would do very well; and I’d like to see, though it won’t happen, the asinine restriction on internet wagering in the state of Minnesota.  That regulation’s time is clearly passed and the state needs to join most of the rest of the country in allowing wagers via ExpressBet, TwinSpires and the other legal advanced deposit wagering platforms.

If interest in our 2012-13 racing partnership is any indication, there is a spike in interest in owning horses and racing at Canterbury.  There is a lot to love about Canterbury and I look forward to helping to keep the momentum rolling through the next decade – and more.  Think I’m being a homer?  Check out what Brian Zipse had to say over at Horse Racing Nation. 
See you high atop Canterbury Park in May!

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